George Smiley is no James Bond.His face and body belong to a middle-age man who enjoys his tea and biscuits. There is no flash or dazzle in his manner; he is not a charmer. There is just the quiet, disciplined methodology of a highly analytical man whose job is his life’s calling. And it is this methodology that is precisely what makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so interesting. Far from a shoot-’em-up, car chase spy movie, Tinker insists that you think right along with Smiley to find his man.
In the early 1970s, disgraced and forced into retirement after a disaster in Budapest, George Smiley (played with intelligent nuance by Gary Oldman) is brought back to determine which high-ranking MI6 official, former colleagues and friends all, is the mole for the Soviet union. The officials in question are played by Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, and Colin Firth (exuding a certain oily charm that works well for his character). They are all are thoroughly unlikable and arrogant, but no matter: from beginning to end, this is Smiley’s movie.
It is worth mentioning that Smiley does not speak until nearly twenty minutes into the movie. By then director Tomas Alfredson has painted a fascinating portrait of Smiley’s habits, ingrained by a life spent looking over his shoulder in the service of MI6. Smiley rarely speaks at all, preferring to let his colleagues and the audience take the time to draw their own conclusions. It is only gradually that Oldman gives us more of Smiley’s character and his willingness to do anything to protect the agency. While interrogating a suspect on an airfield and with only the slightest adjustment in tone and facial movements, Oldman peels back just enough to let us see the cold menace and potential for cruelty in Smiley’s otherwise mild-mannered persona. By the time the mole is revealed, the identity almost doesn’t matter: the pleasure is in watching Smiley work his way from Point A to Point B.
Complimenting Oldman’s fine work as Smiley is tight direction from Tomas Alfredson. Having not read the novel on which Tinker is based I cannot speak to the differences between the film and the book. But, it is clear that Alfredson has a specific vision and always follows his instincts. Alfredson trusts the audience to keep up with Smiley’s calculations and expects you to work hard to keep up with the plot–nothing is given away for free. The cinematography does a lot for the mood of the film; with the exception of a romp in Istanbul told from the perspective of another agent (who narrates himself as a Bond rather than a Smiley) the film is appropriately shot in shades of cold, wintry gray.
Tense and thrilling despite its intellectualism and peppered with moments of dry humor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a thinking man’s spy movie that will leave you wondering long after the credits roll. Without Oldman’s subtle, serious performance as George Smiley, I would give Tinker three and a half stars out of five. With Oldman in the picture, I would bump that to four and a half.
George Smiley may not be Bond. But in this case, that’s a wonderful thing.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: directed by Tomas Alfredson and starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, and John Hurt. Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes. It opens in the USA in December
This guest review was written by Deanna Niles McConnell is a traveler and freelance writer based in North Yorkshire, UK. She chronicles her life–interesting and otherwise–on her blog: http://travelingmonkeys.org.